Monday, July 22, 2024

SPORTS | 28-09-2022 22:23

All-conquering Argentina head to Qatar 2022 World Cup full of optimism

The World Cup is almost here, and while stronger opponents lie in wait in Qatar, the numbers are all lining up in Argentina's favour. It is impossible not to feel optimistic.

At this point in time, the most difficult challenge on Lionel Scaloni's hands might be to control expectations surrounding his all-conquering team. The Argentina coach is certainly making a valiant attempt to play down talk of a triumphant match towards glory.

“We are going to play a World Cup, we will try and do our best, there is no doubt there,” Scaloni signalled to reporters. “And then, in football nobody can be sure now that they can win or be world champions, least of all in a World Cup where there are 10 other teams who can do it.”

Wise words for sure. And yet it is impossible not to feel optimistic. Scaloni was speaking after Argentina's latest impressive victory, a 3-0 demolition of Jamaica in New Jersey which followed hot on the heels of an identical result to take down Honduras and which put a wrap on a perfect mini-tour of the United States in this latest international break.

The World Cup is now just two months away, and while stronger opponents than the CONCACAF duo lie in wait the numbers are all lining up in Argentina's favour.

Consider, for example, that Tuesday's victory marked the Albiceleste's 35th game without defeat, extending the national record and bringing them within two of the outright benchmark set by Italy. Or that of their eight fixtures in 2022 to date just one, a tricky dead rubber World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador, has ended without victory, and that following that clash the last four games have brought four wins, 14 goals in favour and not a single strike conceded.

Or, perhaps most encouraging of all, that talisman Lionel Messi has smashed nine in the last three games, laying down an ominous warning to the rest of the football world.

While the great virtue of this Argentina team is that it does not depend solely on the Paris Saint-Germain wizard, he is certainly useful to have around. Messi needed less than a full half of football off the bench to liven up an otherwise routine win over Jamaica with two stunning strikes from outside the area, having earlier finished off the challenge of Honduras with another double. At 35, he remains all but unplayable at his best and his talent on the field and rapport with the rest of this tight-knit Albiceleste squad is a huge plus going into his fifth and presumably final World Cup – although with Messi you never know.

“I'd buy a ticket just to see him, I'd buy the shirt of whichever country he played for,” Scaloni said of the ace, while also comparing him to recently retired tennis idol Roger Federer. “I don't know if we'll ever see anything like this again, we just have to enjoy it.”

Messi certainly seems to be enjoying himself. The veteran is never far from the spotlight, be it for his magic on the field or the mania which surrounds his every move when the ball stops. Team-mate and unofficial bodyguard Rodrigo De Paul felt obliged to step in to calm down a member of the Honduras backroom staff who was somewhat overzealous in seeking a photo with the great man, while in New Jersey a pitch invader even managed to have Leo scrawl half an autograph on his bare back before being tackled by security guards (who almost took the player down with him). 

All in a day's work for one of the finest talents in football history and nothing compared to the furore that would be generated if he could finally get his hands on the game's most prestigious trophy – and there is a chance, whether Scaloni cares to admit it or not.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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